Mark Twain said a classic is a book nobody reads. This book will be read for a long time to come. As with another reviewer I too found myself returning to this book after several years of having not thrown it away--I am thankful for that. I read it twice. And then I found another novel of Muriel Spark's Memento Mori still on my shelf and read it. Wow, am I ever thankful.
Just as a way of reminder a novel impresses different people different ways, being this way or that way so effective depending on each reader's own inclinations and biases; so anyone's perspective on this novel's story will be so affected.
That being said, Muriel Sparks was a Scottish convert to Catholicism. That is why I must state what is important; she lived in Britain where this made her an oddity. And it also meant that at first meeting her most fellow Brits would somewhat look down upon her with suspicion. A Catholic character in this book, Ronald Bridges, deals with such occasions by using some handy and amusing responses he has thought up along the way. In the two novels, this and the other I mentioned, it is in a Catholic character where the moral compass is to be found--through whom the novel's moral compass is given expression. Thus these stories have no way of not ultimately being testimonies of sorts to Mrs. Sparks faith.
For the serious and intelligent reader this should create no great bother. It is not overtly presented at all, and it would be unfair to say she could not write in a way that seemed to let everything and everyone alone to be revealed in a most natural if not astonishing way. It's just that without her adopted form of Christianity the novels would have been impossible for Ms. Sparks to write.
It is my opinion that in The Bachelors she has the character Ronald Bridges kindly explain to us how his Catholic faith plays a part in his life as a way of explaining it's part in her's--a reader could even legitimately consider the moment to be a testimony of her bias and her defense of it to the English literary establishment. In a piece of biting and humorous dialogue, she has an angry Ronald give it to his fellow Catholic and Irish friend Mathew Finch.
Let the dialogue begin with Mathew the Irish Catholic:
""Well, as a Catholic how do you feel about-"
Ronald turned on him in a huge attack of irritation. "As a Catholic I loathe all other Catholics."
"I can well understand it. Don't shout, for goodness sake-" Mathew said.
"And I can't bear the Irish."
"I wont stand for that," Mathew said
"Don't ask me" Ronald shouted, " how I feel about things as a Catholic. To me, being a Catholic is part of my human existence. I don't feel one way as a human being and another as a Catholic." "
As a couple of footnotes, in the novel the author herself highlighted "as a Catholic.", and it is widely acknowledged that Mrs. Sparks found her literary voice after her conversion to Catholicism.
I explain all of this so that for the truth's sake you wont let yourself be ignorant of the importance of her faith to her works. She writes as a Catholic. And don't be bothered by it. As any writer worth reading she also speaks of many things that are universally felt and knowable. All the other reviews have been dead on about what you will find in this book. Be aware that there is more, much more.
As I have said I have also recently reread this and her novel Memento Mori. I will let two great English writers, writers of classics of our times, tell of the impression her novels have left on them. One of these literary figures was a Catholic, Evelyn Waugh, and the other was an atheist with a profound pessimistic streak, Tennessee Williams. Of The Bachelors Evelyn Waugh wrote that "I am dazzled by The Bachelors. It is the cleverest and most elegant of all Mrs. Spark's clever and elegant books." Tennessee Williams wrote of Memento Mori that Mrs. Sparks is "A marvelously witty English writer--her best, I think, is Memento Mori, which is chillingly brilliant."
These two writers are quite set apart in their outlook on life, and they both went to her novels to be entertained and to be given a bit of, to paraphrase Joseph Conrad, that truth we have forgotten to ask of from the novel. After reading her novels a reader is amused, entertained, and has entered fully into a believable other world and fully into other's existences in it. At the end of the day the perennial issues crown her works: the nature of existence and human existence is felt both as profoundly funny and serious, as evil and good, on the surface not at all clear of malevolence, and as troubled and lowly, and as heroic, it being capable of both genuine friendship and love, a reality that Tennessee Williams had some profound doubts about being possible at all. On behalf of Tennessee Williams I must add that indeed no one is perfect nor can anyone escape life's troubles.
Bachelors are a funny breed; as for the pitiable and redeemable bachelors and bachelorettes in the novel, there are of the same kind roaming the earth today; in the short time frame of the novel one set does get married---a bachelor found himself an irresistible lady friend who found him equally irresistible.